28th-31st August, 2013
Since June 2002, a fluid community of people from around the world has occupied a small patch of woodland on the edge of Edinburgh, in opposition to plans for a bypass that will flatten the woods and cover the area in concrete.
Bilston Glen, said to be the world’s longest tree-sit, is a protest site made up of a network of tree-houses, aerial walkways, netting and bridges. I first visited briefly in 2007, and now I’m back for a few days, to catch my breath and see how the camp is doing.
H and I spent the previous ten days at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, having our senses assaulted by a non-stop cocktail of live music, juggling, comedy, burlesque, street performers and undefinable spectacles, while H attempted to compete with some of the most professional buskers on the planet. It’s been a whirlwind of colour and sound, each act attempting to outdo the others in loudness, brightness, weirdness or wonder.
The forest is a very different place. Trees whisper in the wind. Sunlight filters in through cracks between the leaves, dappling light across the camp. Occasionally a dog barks, or a crusty will pick up a guitar, but for a community of ten, it’s a very peaceful place.
One of the usual residents is a away for a few days, so we’re given his tree-house to stay in. It has a large double bed, carefully fitted glass windows, a sofa, and a rat infestation.
As far as food goes, the camp is incredibly organised. Perfectly good-to-eat food is collected from nearby supermarket bins, the packets cleaned up, and stored in three large fridges: one for bread, one for meat and dairy, and one for veg. The fridges aren’t plugged in as the camp has no electricity, but it’s important to keep food sealed away from feisty rats, who spent the past twelve years evolving ever more cunning ways of stealing it. As well as the ‘skipped’ food (that’s dumpster-diving to you international folk), there are regular donations by local people who support the ongoing campaign, as well as food bought by the camp’s residents, many of whom have jobs.
Tea is always on the boil, there’s always someone chatting around the fire, and there’s often something being cooked to share. Apart from that, there’s not much to do.
H and I spend a couple of hours every day using the free internet and drinking endless cups of ‘freefill’ tea, coffee and hot chocolate at Ikea Industrial Homestore Cafe, fifteen minutes walk from camp. It’s a very odd contrast to sit in a giant metal cube after the wildness of the woods.
After three nights at camp, we decide it’s time to move on. We want to hitch-hike right up to the North of Scotland, before the weather turns against us.
I’ll leave you with a video from around the time I first visited Bilston Glen.